Misplaced courage

Before the monitor’s blank screen I bow my head, waiting for the words to come. The hum of this machine of mine keeps me steady, like the upper cable of a makeshift bridge across a river. And I’m picturing that time on the cable bridge across Hammersley Fork, at the end of a long day’s hike.

Perhaps those watching from the bank were thinking, “How brave!” But it’s much more likely they were saying to themselves, “Better him than me!” And they each took off their shoes & rolled up their pants’ legs, grabbing sticks to steady themselves against the current.

If you take a close look at bravery, it almost always turns out to be something else. Firemen enter the burning building out of a sense of duty, out of love. Soldiers rush into battle to save their comrades. A woman gives birth because she has to, because she wants a child. People do what they have to do. It’s their actions that are courageous; their hearts are full of trepidation.

I have never been brave like that. I’m lazy. I want to stay dry.

The others made their way downstream and crossed at the ford, shouting and laughing. I kept the lower cable tight against the heels of my boots and crab-walked slowly across. At its highest point the drop was less than ten feet, I said to myself, so what’s the big deal? But right in the middle I looked down and my heart skipped a beat.

The water looked so inviting, all of a sudden!

Submitted for the July 1 Ecotone topic Courage and Place. Hammersley Fork is both the name of a large stream and a State Forest Wild Area in northern Pennsylvania, over 30,000 acres of virtually roadless, recovering second-growth forest.

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